Iran: The Shia World War

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October 18, 2016: The unusual alliance of Iran, Turkey and Russia is seen by all three countries as historically unnatural and unsustainable. Iran has long been fighting the Russians and Turks over who had the most power, control and influence in the areas where they were neighbors. Each of the three still have fundamental differences with the other two and popular opinion in all three nations shows widespread distrust of these “unnatural” allies. But most Iranians also remember that many times in the past Iran has made such unstable alliances work, for a while at least.

Then there are the Arabs, who have never been seen as in the same league with the Turks and Russians. Except for a few centuries after the founding of Islam 1,400 years ago, the Arabs were not taken seriously by Iranians. Most Arabs remember this and don’t like or trust the Iranians. Even in Iraq, where most of the Arabs are Shia and more inclined to be pro-Iran, Shia Arabs tend to fear and distrust Iran. The most obvious example of this is the current unpopularity of the Iraqi Shia Arab militias which Iran created and controls by buying weapons, paying bribes and bonuses and staffing them with Iranian advisors and trainers. Many of the men in these militias lost kin to Sunni Arab terrorists since (or even before) 2003 and are out for revenge. While Iranians are enthusiastic about killing Sunni Arabs who have murdered Shia (mainly Arab, but also a few Iranians) most Iraqi Arabs (including most Shia) are not. As a result these militias are now kept out of (by order of the Shia Arab government) operations in areas with a lot of Sunni civilians. Iran keeps pressuring the Iraqi government to change this policy.

The people of Arabia (nearly all of them Arabs) see Iran as an ancient and now very active threat. This can be seen in how Iran quietly (or openly in Yemen) supports Shia Arabs who fight Sunni Arab governments throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The most publicized example of this in Yemen where, with help from Iran, the Yemeni Shia rebels are preparing to continue fighting even after they have been forced out of the capital and back to their home provinces up north. The rebels still hold the capital despite being outnumbered (most Yemenis are Sunni, like the bin Laden family) and the arrival of a Saudi led military force (thousands of ground troops and hundreds of warplanes) in early 2015. The Shia rebels are confident because they have been maintaining their power and cohesion in this region for over a thousand years. While most Yemenis and their neighbors learned to live with this in the past the situation is different this time because of the oil wealth. That is something that does not get nearly enough attention by outsiders. Oil changed Arabia more than anything else in the past thousand years.

Since the last ice age ended 12,000 years ago people in Arabia have been largely poor and few in number. Most of the population and wealth (what we now call GDP) was in the south where there was regular rainfall in what is now Yemen. For about 4,000 years Iran was the regional superpower. The West European renaissance and industrial revolution changed all that. By the 19th century Iran was no longer the regional superpower and by the mid-20th century the ancient economic balance of power was radically changed because the West (and soon the rest of the world) figured out how to find, use and become dependent on oil and natural gas. It soon became clear that the largest concentrations of oil and gas were in Arabia. Most of that oil wealth was owned by Arabian nomads whose only notable export until then was a new religion (Islam) that had become an obstacle to any kind of economic, social, or technical progress. All that unexpected oil wealth changed the traditional balance of power. Yemen became the poor cousin, a fate that Yemenis were never happy with. Iran got some of the oil wealth, but not enough for it to regain its ancient superpower status.

To further complicate matters Iran had become largely Shia as part of a 16th century effort to revive Iranian power in the face of Turkish expansion. The Turks were relatively new in the region and had adopted Sunni Islam. Iranian rulers deliberately forced their subjects to convert and that process took over a century to complete. That produced an ethnic/religious divide in the region which is now triggering and sustaining several wars, including the one in Yemen and a larger potential one between Saudi Arabia and Iran. A lot of the Sunni violence against Shia is caused by Sunnis belonging to the many Wahhabi mosques founded worldwide since the 1980s with the assistance of Saudi cash and missionaries. The Wahhabi form of Islam is the dominant one in Saudi Arabia and very hostile towards non-Moslems and Moslems who are not Wahhabi. Meanwhile Iranian support for Shia rebellion and radicalism is showing up worldwide, despite Iranian efforts to keep a low profile.

Beyond Arabia

There are about seven million Shia in Nigeria and since the 1980s a growing number of them have joined IMN (Islamic Movement in Nigeria), a group founded and quietly supported by Iran. While relations between Shia and Sunni Moslems have generally been good in Nigeria, local Sunni radical groups like Boko Haram practice the anti-Shia attitudes so common in Sunni terror groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. IMN always proclaimed itself a peaceful group that welcomed all Moslems but over the years it has become all Shia and a lot more militant. Using Iran as an example (because a religious revolution in 1979 put Shia clergy in charge of the government by the mid-1980s) many Shia in Nigeria now want such a religious dictatorship, using Islamic law, for all of Nigeria (which is half Christian). Before IMN came along many in the Sunni majority believed the religious differences between Shia and Sunni were not a problem. But now, because of strife between Saudi Arabia and Iran there is a lot of tension and violence over these differences. Since the 1990s there have been assassinations (of Shia and Sunni leaders) as well as riots and some battles linked to the growth of Shia radicalism. While the Nigerian Shia are considered less-than-orthodox by the senior Shia clergy back in Iran and Iraq, they are still recognized as Shia, and Iran has provided more and more support, most of it illegal, in the form of cash smuggled in to help sustain Shia organizations.

The Iran connection in Nigeria became more visible in the last decade. For example in 2013 Iran denied that it had trained a Nigerian Shia cleric in espionage techniques so he could recruit locals and gather information on the activities of Israelis and Americans in southwestern Nigeria (where the cleric, and many Shia) live. This plot unraveled when Nigerian police arrested and interrogated three Shia Nigerian Moslems who admitted spying for Iran and provided many details. Since 2013 the Shia violence has increased, as have the Iranian denials that they are involved. The IMN says the increased violence is not their fault and largely triggered by police and army violence against peaceful Shia. The security forces have, for decades, behaved like this towards anyone they perceived of as a threat. Only in the last few years has the government tried to curb this illegal and counterproductive violence. At the same time groups like IMN and Boko Haram would not act any differently if the security forces behaved because both these groups are dedicated to establish religious dictatorships in Nigeria and destroying Islamic groups that do not agree with them.

With Boko Haram fading from the headlines Shia Islamic terrorism is becoming more visible. Iran backed Nigerian Shia radical groups were advised (often via training in Iran) to maintain a low profile, especially if Sunni Islamic terrorists were active. Since the 1980s Iran has been sponsoring (paying for) Nigerian Shia to make religious or educational visits to Iran where many were recruited to receive training in how to form political and para-military organizations. This low key approach paid off as there are now a lot of Nigerian Shia willing to defend Shia Islam in Nigeria with violence (organized or otherwise).

What is happening in Nigeria is another victory for the Quds Force (which supervises Iranian sponsored terrorism overseas). This Quds involvement became visible in 2010 when Nigeria reported to the UN that Iran had illegally smuggled weapons to Nigeria. Iran first insisted that it was all a misunderstanding, and that the weapons were actually purchased by an unnamed Nigerian politician. Most Nigerian politicians maintain private armies. These forces are illegal, and are usually criminal gangs in the pay of local politicians. Iran then changed its story and denied that the arms shipment was from Iran at all (despite all the shipping documents and witnesses indicating otherwise.) Another claim was that the arms were actually legal exports headed for Gambia (about a thousand kilometers up the coast from Nigeria). There were suggestions that Gambia was but another stop on the way to Egypt, where the weapons would be smuggled to Iranian supported Hamas in Gaza via tunnels under the border.

Up until then Nigeria was generally friendly with Iran, a country that has been generous with bribes, and other favors, for Nigerian officials. Two Iranians in Nigeria who arranged the arms shipment took refuge in the Iranian embassy and were apparently members of the Quds Force. At this point the Sunni Boko Haram was becoming more active and this Shia Islamic radicalism faded from the headlines. Now Boko Haram is just about gone and the Shia radicals are still around.

On The Western Front (Syria)

Although the Syrian army is advised, and carefully watched, by Iranian advisors the Syrian Kurds are another matter. The Assad forces are working with local Kurdish militias to drive rebels out of formerly Kurdish areas of northwest Aleppo. While these are Syrian Kurds who have kept the border areas they control in northwestern Syria free of ISIL and other Islamic terrorist activity Turkey and Iran are largely hostile to other Kurdish militias in Syria. That because the most active Kurdish rebels have belonged to the PYD (a Syrian Kurd separatist group allied with Turkish Kurdish PKK separatists) and their military forces (the YPG). There are also some Iranian Kurds who came to Syria and joined the YPG and other Syrian Kurd rebel groups. The Turks believe (without much proof) that some of these Iranian Kurds are connected with the Iranian PAK, which is similar to the PYD in Syria and PKK in Turkey.

The Syrian Kurds have told the Turks that they have renounced any ties with the YPG and request that non-YPG Kurdish rebels not be bombed by Turk F-16s. The Turks said they would consider that but some non-YPG Kurds are being hit by Turkish air strikes while others are not. The Syrian Kurds do not want to fight the Turks and most YPG fighters agree with that. But Syrian Kurd leaders have told Turkey that if Turkish troops advance east of the Euphrates River the Kurds will fight back. The YPG probably will but most Kurds do not want to fight the Turks. The Syrian Kurds are trying to work out a compromise, which is especially important since the Americans have refused to help the Kurds fight the Turks. The Americans have told the Kurds they are trying to get persuade the Turks to make a formal deal with the Syrian Kurds but so far all the Turks will go along with is temporary arrangements. The Assads, Russians, Iranians and Turks are fine with crushing all Kurdish resistance in Syria.

October 15, 2016: On Yemen’s Red Sea coast Iran backed Shia rebels fired more missiles at American warships (two destroyers and an amphibious ship). None of the missiles hit the warships. The rebels are believed to be using Iranian Noor anti-ship missiles. These are clones of the Chinese C-802 (“Silkworm”). Iran ordered some of these in 1995 but China was pressured to respect the international weapons embargoes on Iran and only delivered a few before cancelling the order. China kept silent as Iran proceeded to reverse-engineer the C-802s. China has long bought Iranian oil and since the sanctions began going away in 2016 began getting the expected contracts to help develop Iranian oil fields.

The C-802 was old technology and even in the 1990s and had a max range of 120 kilometers. By 2001 Iran was openly testing these C-802 clones, which were called Qader or Noor. By 2011 there was a version with a range of 200 kilometers and an improved guidance system. The latest version has a range of 300 kilometers and probably an even more effective guidance system. Meanwhile the Chinese kept improving the C-802, making it more reliable and accurate. There were also several variants including a cruise missile version with a range of 500 kilometers. The Yemeni Shia rebels and the Lebanese Hezbollah are believed to have some of the older models (that were sent because unused missiles eventually become useless because key components have deteriorated). Hezbollah fired several at Israeli warships in 2006. The Israeli countermeasures worked but one corvette was damaged. Since then the countermeasures appear to have gotten better faster than the Noor guidance system.

October 14, 2016: In the northwest (West Azerbaijan province) Kurdish KDPI separatists claim to have killed eight IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) troops. The PJAK Kurdish rebel group (with about twice as many armed members as KDPI) claims to have killed at least 32 IRGC troops in the last week to avenge the death of twelve PJAK men in an October 4th clash with the IRGC. Until March the KDPI had observed a 1990s ceasefire with the Iranian government. The KDPI apparently has over a thousand armed members (many of them women) in the area. The armed KDPI provided protection from bandits and such and until 2015 Iranian security forces observed the ceasefire. But increasing aggressiveness by PJAK led the IRGC to go after any armed Kurds.

Since mid-June the IRGC has been particularly active in this area as part of yet another attempt to eliminate any armed Kurdish separatists. This is proving difficult because the local population is largely Kurdish. The Iranian Kurdish separatists maintain bases in Iraq and IRGC artillery has fired shells and rockets at these Iraqi bases several times since June. The Iraqi Kurds don’t officially approve of these Iranian Kurds hiding out on their side of the border but they won’t send their own troops in to oust them from largely remote and thinly populated areas. The Iraqi government (run by the Shia Arab majority) apologizes to Iran but will not go to war with its own Kurds over this. Thus it is no surprise that Iran is currently blaming Saudi Arabia for the Iranian Kurds finding sanctuary in northern Iraq.

October 13, 2016: Russia reported that it had completed deliveries of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran. After years of delays S-300 deliveries finally got going in late 2015. Iran was to have five S-300 batteries operational by 2017. The S-300 version Iran is receiving can use the latest S-300 missiles with a range of 200 kilometers. Each S-300 battery has a fire control radar and 6-8 launcher vehicles (each carrying four or two missiles). It is unclear if any of the S-300 batteries are actually operational yet. One reason Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs are openly collaborating with Israel is because of the S-300s. If anyone in the region has electronic (and other) countermeasures to the S-300 it is Israel. The Israelis are willing to make a deal on that point, depending on how much the Arabs are willing (or able) to tone down their traditional anti-Semitic policies.

October 12, 2016: Iran confirmed that it had sent a warship (the 45 year old 1,500 ton Alvand) and a support ship (the 4,600 ton Bushehr) to the Gulf of Aden (the waters between Yemen and Somalia) to protect ships from Somali pirates. The Somali pirates are not much of a threat anymore and these two ships were there to “confront” (or at least monitor) American warships off the Yemen coast. The biggest and most modern warships Iran has are some Jarmaran class corvettes. This is a 1,400 ton vessel has a crew of 140 and is armed with one 76mm gun, a helicopter, one 40mm and two 20mm cannon, four small anti-aircraft missiles, six anti-submarine torpedoes, and four Noor (C-802) anti-ship missiles. Iran describes these ships as “destroyers”. The British built Alvand has been updated over the years and has similar armament to the Jarmaran but, being much older, is more expendable.

On Yemen’s Red Sea coast Iran backed Shia rebels again fired missiles at an American destroyer but missed.

October 11, 2016: American warships fired five cruise missiles at three mobile radar stations on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. These radars were being used by Iran backed Shia rebels to locate targets for Iranian anti-ship missiles. Without these radars the rebels can still use men on nearby (fishing or cargo) boats to report the location of targets, or even use small UAVs launched from the coast. That, however, is less accurate than the targeting radars.

October 10, 2016: Saudi Arabia told Egypt that shipments of free oil would be halted. This was because on October 8th Egypt refused to vote against a Russian peace proposal in the UN that was favored by Iran and the Iran backed Syrian government. All other Arab states opposed this Russian move, in large part because the Gulf Arabs and Iran are at war with each other. Not a shooting war, not yet, and the Saudis expect Moslem states they support financially to reciprocate by backing Saudi diplomacy and, in effect, recognize Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world. Egypt long held that position because of its long history of regional leadership, even before Islam appeared in the 7th century. Egypt is broke and still dealing with Islamic terrorist violence. The Saudis are rich and have far fewer problems internally with Islamic terrorism. But for many Egyptians it is humiliating to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile one thing that the Egyptians and Saudis do agree on is better relationships with Israel. Along those lines Saudi Arabia has quietly stopped blocking access to Israeli news sites for its citizens.

October 9, 2016: On Yemen’s Red Sea coast Iran backed Shia rebels fired missiles at an American destroyer but missed.

October 8, 2016: In Gaza. Iran is causing more problems for Hamas by increasing it financial and military support for Al Sabirin a Shia Islamic terrorist group in Gaza. Hamas provides sanctuary for Al Sabirin because it is an Iran backed group that is also dedicated to carrying out attacks against Israel. Hamas provides support in order to continue receiving cash and other aid from Iran. Al Sabirin was founded in 2013 and sought to recruit 400 men but has only recently come close to achieving that goal. Until late 2015 (when Iran began sending more cash) growth was stalled because few Palestinians are Shia to begin with and not many were willing to convert for a job as a Shia Islamic terrorist. By 2014 Iran had cut most aid to Gaza because Hamas supported the fight against the Assad government in Syria. That changed in 2015 when Iran increased its aid to Hamas but sent a lot more to Al Sabirin. At that point most of the foreign aid Hamas got was from Sunni Arab oil states. When Hamas gets too much pressure from Egypt or Israel about Al Sabirin violence some of the Shia terrorists will be arrested, and within a week, once things have quieted down, released. Unlike the smaller Sunni Islamic terror groups in Gaza, Al Sabirin has a dangerous sponsor you do not want to anger.

Iran and Russia signed an agreement that allows Russian oil firms to begin assessing work to be done on developing new Iranian oil fields.

October 7, 2016: Turkey openly called on Iraq to ban Iran controlled Iraqi Shia militias from joining the fight to retake Mosul. Turkey pointed out that the 2,000 Turkish troops in Iraq had trained thousands of Sunni Arabs and Kurds who are sufficient to do whatever the Shia militias say they will do. Moreover many of the Sunni Arabs Turkey has trained are from Mosul while the Iran supported Shia militias are seen as a real threat to Sunni civilians in Mosul. The Shia Arab Iraqi government is caught in the middle of this. Most Iraqi Arab Shia, including those running the government, want to keep Iran and Turkish influences out, if only because for nearly a thousand years Turks and Iranians have fought over and taken turns ruling what is now Iraq. This only ended after 1918 (the end of World War I) when Britain assembled Iraq from parts of the defunct Turkish Ottoman Empire and set it free. Most Iraqis don’t appreciate that either but that’s another story.

In northeast Nigeria (Kaduna State) the state government declared the Iran sponsored IMN an “unlawful society”. This meant any demonstrations or meeting involving IMN are illegal and those participating are subject to arrest.

October 1, 2016: Near the Yemeni Red Sea port of Mocha a UAE (United Arab Emirates) HSV 2 catamaran high speed transport, carrying supplies and passengers, was hit by an Iranian anti-ship missile. The damage to the 1,600 ton transport was severe mainly because of fire but the HSV 2 did not sink and was towed to a port for further examination. The UAE had leased one of the former U.S. Navy HSV 2s and it arrived in July 2015, just in time to quickly move troops and vehicles from the UAE to Yemen to help the government there deal with an Iran-backed rebellion by Shia tribes. Since then the HSV 2 has continued to move supplies and personnel to Yemeni government controlled ports in southern Yemen, including near areas along the Red Sea coast that were still controlled by Shia rebels.

September 29, 2016: Indian, Afghan and Iranian officials met in India to begin the process of speeding up the completion of the new trade route though Iran via the port of Chabahar (in southeastern Iran). The will free India and Afghanistan from dependence on Pakistan for a trade route and will also open up Central Asian markets for everyone since the new rail and road network goes from the northern border of Afghanistan to an enlarged Iranian port on the Indian Ocean. Everyone involved, except Pakistan and its ally China, is enthusiastic about this economic development project. The Chabahar route was originally set to be operational by 2020 but now the three nations want to get some access a year or two earlier than planned. At the same time Iran has expressed interest in linking with the new Chinese funded rail link from China to the Pakistani coast.

September 27, 2016: Iran revealed that its security forces (mainly the intelligence services) had found and killed the head of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) for Iran last August and killed him as he tried to escape to Iraq. This took place in Kermanshah province, which is on the Iraqi border. The province is largely Kurdish and Arab as well as Sunni. ISIL has never established any official presence in Iran but some Iranian Sunni Arabs and Kurds have been attracted to the more radical ISIL and there have been efforts by ISIL to get an ISIL branch established inside Iran. So far that has failed.

In southeast on the Pakistan (Baluchistan) border Iranian troops fired three mortar shells at what appeared to be Baluchi Islamic terrorists across the border in Pakistan. Baluchi Sunni Islamic terrorists who regularly operate in Iran from bases in Pakistan have become a growing problem. Pakistan is under a lot of pressure to do something about it, so the Pakistani government prevented this incident from becoming a major media event.

September 26, 2016: Iran confirmed that it had been using its new (since 2012) Shahed 129 UAVs in Syria. This is one of the largest (over half a ton) UAVs Iran has developed and built. Since 2014 Shahed 129s have been spotted in Syria and Iraq (near Iranian border) doing surveillance. In early 2016 video on Iranian TV showed the Shahed 129 using laser guided air-to ground missiles. These attacks have not apparently been very successful otherwise Iran would have publicized them.

September 25, 2016: During a parade in Tehran Iran displayed what was announced as a new version of their solid fuel Fateh ballistic missile, called Zolfaghar that had range of 700 kilometers. This came a year after the 2015 announcement that the Fateh-313, with a range of 500 kilometers was now in production. Fateh-313 and Zolfaghar apparently achieved their longer range by using larger solid fuel rocket motors. Solid fuel motors are cheaper to maintain enable a missile to be made ready in less than 30 minutes compared to several hour for liquid fueled missiles like the SCUD.

Also put on display were Ghadr (Qadr) H IRBMs (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) and was described as its latest long range (2,000 kilometers) ballistic missile design. Ghadr H was apparently more accurate and reliable. Earlier in 2016 Iran claimed to have successfully tested two Ghadr H and proved that this missile had overcame the problem of IRBM accuracy. While Iran talks about IRBMs armed with nuclear warheads, it will be years before such a warhead is available. Meanwhile Iran has high-explosive and chemical warheads. These can be a threat to Israel if their warheads are accurate enough to hit targets like a nuclear power plant or the part of an airbase where the most effective Israeli warplanes are kept.

September 23, 2016: In Syria Russia and the Assads announced they had begun a major offensive to regain control of Aleppo. In the 24 hours before the announcement there were at least 150 airstrikes in and around Aleppo. The main objective of the ground attack is the eastern districts of the city still controlled by the rebels, but also still sheltering at least 250,000 civilians. The air attacks caused over 500 casualties, mostly of them civilians. Russia and Iran backed the Syrian government refusal to even consider another ceasefire. These attacks continue as does the advance of Assad ground forces. The Aleppo offensive is succeeding mainly because of Russian air support, Iranian mercenaries on the ground and disagreements among the rebels. Russian political and diplomatic efforts have also prevented any foreign intervention. The UN and the West call Russian and Syrian use of airpower a war crime and threaten prosecutions for the attacks on civilian targets. These threats are ignored and Russia accuses its critics of supporting Islamic terrorism. Russia is confident they (with the help of China) can block UN efforts to interfere in Syria. Russia is willing to consider offers to lift the economic sanctions against them, but so far no one is willing to back that approach. Russia believes any American or NATO threats to use force in Syria are just that, threats not backed up by any willingness to act.

Because of all this the Assad government is clearly defeating the 2011 rebellion and Iran will take a lot of the credit. This is happening with the help of Russia, Iran and a temporary anti-ISIL coalition that includes NATO, Turks, Arab Gulf states and Kurdish separatists. ISIL is likely to disappear as a major factor by early 2017 as the two major ISIL held cities (Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in eastern Syria) are about to be lost. That will remove a major (over a third) of the rebel combat capability in Syria. Turkish troops entered Syria in late August to clear the ISIL and Kurdish groups from northern Syria. All this has weakened the rebels sufficiently to enable to Syrian army to advance against Aleppo and against rebels operating outside the capital (Damascus). Turkey has offered to get involved in the offensive against Raqqa. Government forces are also on their way to regaining control of the southern and Iraqi borders by early 2017.

September 22, 2016: In northern Syria Mohammad Soleimani, the Iranian commander of the Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Corps, was killed fighting rebel forces in Aleppo. Iran has had mercenary fighters in Syria since 2012. By mid-2015 over 10,000 Shia were recruited in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Pakistan to fight in Syria. This force was trained and run by the Quds Force, which specializes in this sort of thing. Mohammad Soleimani has long been involved with Quds Force operations and is known to be close friends with several senior Quds Force commanders. So far over 400 Iranians have died fighting in Syria. Iranian mercenaries have taken far higher casualties. Hezbollah (from Lebanon) has lost over a thousand dead so far and other Shia mercenaries recruited, trained, armed and led by Iranian officers and NCOs have lost over two thousand dead. Thus Iranian losses account for about one percent of the total war related deaths in Syria since the anti-Assad rebellion began in 2011.

September 18, 2016: In the northwest (West Azerbaijan province) Kurdish KDPI separatists clashed with IRGC troops and killed ten of them while losing at least one of their own.

September 17, 2015: Iran is now accused have some secret deals with Arab states. For example in central Yemen (Marib province) pro-government tribal militiamen manning a checkpoint discovered several trucks carrying weapons and explosives for rebel forces in Sanaa. The trucks were from neighboring Oman (which is officially neutral in the civil war). Normally everyone allows non-military supplies to cross into Yemen for civilians in rebel and government territory. But smuggling has long been a major economic activity in Yemen and there are plenty of skilled practitioners willing and able to take risks to move anything anywhere. Yemen has also long been the source of most illegal weapons in the region. Yemeni smugglers regularly get forbidden arms into just about anywhere, if the fee is high enough. Currently Iran is paying whatever it takes to get weapons and ammo to the Shia rebels. Some of the smuggled cargo is captured but a lot obviously gets through. The Saudis later pressured Oman to crack down on the smugglers but Oman wants to remain on good terms with both Iran and the Saudis and will probably say they will crack down and then won’t. The Saudis believe some arms are being smuggled in via Omani merchant ships hired to bring fuel, food and other supplies to Yemen. If the smuggling doesn’t decrease Omani shipping firms may get less business from other Gulf Arab states. But it’s not just the Omanis there are many in this region (especially in the Arab states) who are willing to betray any trust if the bribe is large enough. In addition Iran also threatens future retribution against those who don’t cooperate.

September 16, 2016: The UN released a new casualty report for Yemen. This one increases the estimate of deaths so far (from March 2015 to August 2016) by more than half (from 6,500 to 10,000). The new report is based on media reports, mainly from areas controlled by the Shia rebels. This demonstrates how Iran has been very useful to the rebels, especially when it comes to propaganda. Iran and its allies Russia and China are all using their state controlled media to make the Yemen rebels look more successful than they actually are. The Iranians also strive to make the Arab coalition air attacks seem like less of a military effort and more a deliberate effort to attack more civilians than is actually the case. Iran knows that any false data they get into the news now may be discredited later on, but by then it will no longer matter and will not be considered news. This happens a lot historically and has been particularly common since the 1960s as everyone learned how easy it was to spin the media. Thus while the Saudis urge the UN to sanction Iran for supporting the Yemeni rebels, Iran is having more success accusing the Saudis of causing needless civilian casualties in Yemen. While Western nations (including Israel) go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties in a war zone Russia and all the other nations in the Middle East are more traditional and callous towards civilian deaths. Islamic nations call such unintended civilian victims “martyrs” or “involuntary martyrs” and regard Western criticism as culturally insensitive or, as the Iranians demonstrate so well, something to be exploited.

September 15, 2016: Despite the usefulness of Turkish troops entering Syria to fight ISIL (and separatist Kurds) Iran wants Turkish troops out of Syria as soon as possible. The Iranians don’t officially admit this but inside Iran it is openly discussed that because the Turks are Sunni Moslems this “invasion” of Syria could easily be interpreted as Turks take the side of the Sunni Gulf Arabs in the ongoing struggle between these Sunni Arabs and Iran. Then there is the Kurdish angle. One thing that unites Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq is opposition to Kurdish efforts to form their own nation at the expense of the four existing countries where they live. The only support the Kurds have is from outside the region. Western nations have backed the Syrian Kurds since 2011. In Iraq and Syria the Kurds are the most effective local fighters. The Turks, Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians don’t care about that and regard armed Kurds (especially the PKK and PYD) as a threat to national unity. The Syrian Kurds thought they were safe for the moment because they were seen as essential to taking the ISIL capital Raqqa in eastern Syria. The Turks have announced that they don’t want the Kurds anywhere near Raqqa.

 

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